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Seniors need four hours of care now, not in four years – Giroux

Posted: November 3, 2020

(November 2, 2020)

By: Jennifer Hamilton-McCharles, North Bay Nugget

There is no reason to applaud the provincial government just yet.

Long-term care residents need an average of four hours of direct care every day now, not in four years as promised Monday by the Doug Ford government..

Giroux, president of the North Bay and District Labour Council, says it’s “disgusting that seniors who are now living in long-term care homes have to wait four more years.

“Why can’t we have this new standard of care now? We’ve been fighting for seniors to have four hours of direct nursing care since 1995. The Liberals promised this in 2003 and again in 2007 and that didn’t happen, and now the Conservatives are making the same promise.”

Giroux, in Ottawa where he received an allogeneic stem cell transplant and is to remain in care under an Ottawa-area hospital until January, wonders if the announcement is a ploy in advance of the 2022 provincial election.

“COVID-19 showed the province how bad it is in long-term care homes and therefore the government shouldn’t be waiting. Seniors are suffering. When you have loved ones in long-term care you realize what’s going on inside those walls.”

The province announced its commitment to the standard of care, with a pledge to have it achieved by 2024-25. Additional details will be laid out in the provincial budget later this week, and a long-term care staffing plan will be released next month.

“This is a gold standard in the long-term care sector,” Premier Doug Ford said. “And we won’t settle for anything less.

Ford said when the new standard is achieved, it will represent a major increase over the two hours and 45 minutes of care that is the current daily average received by residents.

“We know such an important change will take time to recruit and train the necessary staff,” Ford said. “But we start that work in earnest right now. It’s long overdue.”

Giroux said Quebec already provides four hours of care to its most vulnerable population.

“It’s been a long fight. Seniors deserve the time, whether it’s to be taken on a walk to get some fresh air, or have a bath and dry their hair or a simple chat. Seniors need more time. They all have a story to share.”

The government says long-term care residents currently receive an average of 2.75 hours of direct care a day.

Health-care advocates and unions have long pressed for a minimum four-hour standard of care to improve conditions in Ontario’s long-term care homes.

A government source says the province will need to hire “tens of thousands” more personal support workers, registered practical nurses and registered nurses in the coming years to provide the care.

But Giroux says things will need to change if the province hopes to attract thousands more people to the nursing profession.

Mike Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, says the fact the government is agreeing to move to a standard four hours of direct nursing care is a positive thing.

“We need to acknowledge this will be a significant gain for residents in long-term care.”

Some delay is expected before full implementation, Hurley concedes, because there are shortages in all nursing professions.

“One of the big barriers is that people need to be recruited into this line of work. Long-term care work is mostly part-time and right now nursing staff can only work in one institution. We also need a provincial commitment to provide nursing staff with decent pay,” Hurley says, noting Quebec is hiring 10,000 permanent full-time PSWs who will receive $25 an hour, as well as pensions and benefits.

“We need to see that type of leadership by this province.”

Hurley also agrees four years is too long to implement this legislation.

Two years, he says, would be more reasonable.

Hurley also would like to see the four hours of care receive legislative standard, therefore making it difficult for any political party to reduce it on a whim.

In a release, Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, said “Too much of the government’s response to date has been focused on PR at the expense of concrete measures.

“There is much more that the Ford government could do right now to save lives and get care levels up, so announcing a care standard four years from now is just not good enough. Ontarians need to know what concrete recruitment and training is going to happen right now to get staff into the homes and to move us toward the four-hour minimum average care level as quickly as possible.”

The source said the government has been developing a strategy to implement the care standard for some time as part of its plan to fix what it views as a “broken” long-term care system where more than 2,010 residents have died since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These plans take months, not days to develop,” the source said.

Earlier this month, the province’s Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission said Ontario must spend more money, on a permanent basis, so the homes can hire more personal support workers and nurses.

The commission – which is investigating how the novel coronavirus spread in the long-term care system – also said the province should implement its own staffing plan that came out of an inquiry into a serial-killing nurse who preyed upon nursing-home residents.

The province released that staffing study in July in response to the inquiry about Elizabeth Wettlaufer, a long-term care nurse who used severe staffing shortages to her advantage. She killed eight residents over nine years with lethal injections of insulin, often while working alone on the night shift.

That study recommended a minimum of four hours of direct care per resident per day.

Ontario’s New Democrats have introduced four private member’s bills, most recently last week, in a bid to secure the standard of care in nursing homes.

The NDP also included the care standard in the first plank of its 2022 election platform released last month.

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